I never thought I’d see the world this way. A perfect resemblance of a YA dystopian novel. If I’d known how hard this life was, I’d never have entertained myself with hours of devouring those novels.
We’ve been traveling for days.
Bone weary and chilled through threadbare coats. There’s been nothing but grey stormy skies and frostbitten wind pushing at our tattered clothes. I can’t remember the last time I felt clean. Most of the streams we pass are frozen over and the places the water does still flow are green with toxins.
When we find the abandoned mansion, I welcome it’s large looming presence. I imagine what it must have looked like in the Before. An impressive expression of wealth and plenty. Now it resembles the rest of the Fall. Dilapidated, drooping and morose.
My small team move on silent feet through the broken entrance.
Even the interior hints of the once upon a time grandeur. Dust-misted crystal hang at odd angles from a chandelier which hangs precariously from the vaulted ceilings, rich wallpaper hangs in strips up to the second landing. Besides a few chips in the heavy wood and a broken step, the master staircase looks surprisingly sturdy and untouched by the decay of the Fall.
We climb them. Our Mystic taking the lead, her sharp spear ever at the ready.
As we pass empty room after empty room, my team begin to relax. Some shout which room they claim for themselves.
And with each step my mind wanders with what could be. My vision fills each room with its former glory – full of happy, smiling faces, bloated food overflowing tables, drink aplenty. There would be laughter here, and music.
Blessed, blessed music. How I miss it.
Tears cascade down my cheeks at the beautiful dream.
This could be a place of safety and warmth for so many. I voice my dream to those around me. Most look at me with wide, fearful eyes. It’s dangerous now to add people to your Cluster. I miss the days of my youth, when I was surrounded by so many people from all over the world.
“It could be a magnificent place again.” I say, “There are so many rooms, so many could come out of the cold. Maybe it could even restore a bit of the Before.”
My Mystic smiles. “It would be beauty incarnate.”
I nod at her choice of words, because it would be.
“How ’bout it?” I ask. ” Shall we try to bring something good back to this ole’ building?”
My team shift on their feet, glancing around, trying to figure out what their fellows will say or do. Each one, hoping someone else will make a decision.
“Count me in.” My Mystic. God love her. The light in her eyes tells me she already sees it. I think maybe God has shown her the future.
Braggs, my second, steps forward shifting the machine gun in his meaty hands, “Alright. Let’s do it.”
At his assent others begin to nod and add their words of approval. My heart swells with pride.
Maybe we really can bring some hope back to this world.
Weeks blur as we repair the damage to the old place. The work gives my team fresh vision and already I see smiles light their lips more often. Even their eyes dance again. We’ve already taken in seven new people to our Cluster. And after a few days of hesitant help, they’ve warmed to us and are less timid.
I’m shocked by how easy it seems. Maybe we’re not the only ones longing for a return of times Before.
We keep our focus on the two main floors and as each week passes and more people wander in and join us, we start the renovations to the third floor.
I take an exploratory trip to the eighth story, my Mystic and Braggs are with me. The stairs are smaller here, making me wonder if these rooms were for servants, or lesser people. We step over drawers and their spilled contents, most have been sitting for so long undisturbed that the light breeze of our passing cause them to disintegrate.
We pass small rooms with single beds and standing wardrobes. Hints of the person who lived there are everywhere.
Then we reach a grand room. I’m surprised to find such a magnificent place on the highest floor, but as I glance around, Braggs elbows me and directs my attention to the ceiling.
Black goo hangs from it like icicles. For some reason it makes me think of the cave in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Reading that bit always felt ominous and terrifying.
Those feelings come back to me now too.
Our Mystic, unaware, has ventured farther into the room. I want to shout at her to come back. But something looms out the windows to the far right, stopping the words in my throat.
A giant ear and part of a nose fill one of the massive windows.
My heart hammers in my chest.
How could we have missed this?
“Take the Mystic.” Braggs moves toward the window. The man is full of foolish boldness. God bless his heroics.
I nod and move to action, reaching the Mystic just before the giant troll looks into the window of his inner rooms. “We have to get you out of here.” I say and point to the ceiling. “His rooms are just above us and if he smells you, it’ll undo everything we’ve worked for.”
Her eyes widen with realisation. She pushes past me to be first out the door and back into the narrow corridor.
I wish I understood why trolls could sense Mystics more than others. My only guess is it’s because of their deep connection to God. A half remembered conversation comes back to me. Something about Jack and the Beanstalk and the first tellings of it being about a troll smelling the blood of a Christian Man.
Little did I know back then that I’d be living a dystopian fairytale.
“Find the furthest room you can.” I encourage and watch my Mystic run down the dark hall. I hope she finds a place to hide. And I hope we weren’t too late in removing her from the room.
I turn back to join Braggs who’s knocked his newly made bow with an arrow. His machine gun is probably laying forgotten in his room. I wish he had that instead of a bow and arrow.
My own 9mm is tucked under my makeshift pillow, four floors away. Why didn’t I bring it with me?
Am I becoming soft?
There’s no time to think about that now.
The sound of shifting shingles reach me. The troll is climbing onto the roof. There’s probably a large hole somewhere for it to crawl into the attic.
My mouth goes dry.
After the weeks and weeks we’ve been here, I’ve never stepped out into the back garden. All of this could have been avoided if I’d done a more thorough search.
Maybe hope made me foolish.
Braggs steps through a broken french door and out onto a small stone porch. I join him and get my first full view of the troll. He’s not as large as I’d thought, but still, I know we’re in for a battle.
Something breaks in the room behind us and I see my Mystic. She’s walking toward us, determination in the set of her jaw and the focus of her eyes.
Before I can ask her what she’s doing, she answers me, “If I run, he’ll only sniff me out among the others. Here, he’ll only find me. Our new Cluster is safely below and on the far side from here. One life dangled in the balance is better than a whole community.” She glances between Braggs and I. “Let’s take our chances here. The three of us, against one. God is for us.” She stares out toward the troll, who’s caught her scent, “Who can be against us.”
Her words help me find new wells of confidence. I see Braggs’s shoulders set as he lifts the bow, aiming it expertly. Her words have bolstered him too.
The troll comes toward us, malice and evil intent glint behind his eyes. We’ll take on this beast and send him back to the shores of Sheol. I shift my stance and grasp a piece of board which has nails sticking out of it from where it was held into place on the french doors.
This, my only weapon, against a being far larger than myself.
Still, I am battle ready. I trust my companions wholly. We’ll fight until the death and even if we die, I know this troll will not survive the wounds we give it.
The troll’s hand crumbles the stone banister and just as I launch myself at the beast the familiar buzz of an alarm calls me away.